Fresh. That’s one word to describe the feeling of Native’s new store on Water Street in Gastown. Covered in lush Pacific Northwest greenery, the inner wall of this West Coast footwear boutique is teeming with life.
“As we move into another [location], like Southern California, this would move to sagebrush,” says creative director Michael Belgue, dressed in a hunter green bomber jacket and blue denim. On his feet are the latest evolution of the brand’s signature style, the Jefferson: a white knit lace-up sneaker that evokes comfort and street cred.
Conceived from the idea that “we’re all native from somewhere,” the Vancouver brand’s first-ever retail location opened on Dec. 14, 2017. Holding fast to its beast-free ethos with innovations in EVA—a cool, lightweight material that naturally forms to one’s feet—Native has earned a global reputation for its playful styles and transparent practices. Belgue and his team considered New York and Southern California for the company’s first foray into brick-and-mortar retail, but ultimately their instincts returned home. “This is our backyard, this is where the brand was founded in 2009,” he says. “We really wanted it to be an interactive process where we’re learning from customers, where they are going to experience and see new things from us.”
Birch plywood and white lacquer blocks are arranged into little islands displaying the latest collection of footwear and tees. Polychromatic matte-finish terrazzo tiles made from 400 pairs of old EVA shoes pad the seat benches. Generated by a custom-made grinder on site, this embodies the brand’s passion for creativity and sustainability. With help from local interior designer Andrea Greenway, Belgue tackled the challenge of creating a shared space that engaged both adults and children.
“I was actually inspired by the Swedish candy in store in Yaletown called Karameller,” Belgue says. Modelled after a candy dispenser, a ceiling-high vitrine stores the brand’s best-selling shoe—the kids’ Jefferson. Without excess packaging, children are free to interact with the products and choose their preferred pair in regatta blue, pigeon grey, or Hollywood pink. Towards the back of the store, where a massive peg wall stands—a play on the German tool walls of the 1940s—the display blocks on the adult side take on another role: an interactive fort perfect for little ones to crawl into.
There is plenty for adults to anticipate here, as well. The opening of this flagship location also marks the future site of exclusive releases like the Jefferson 2.0 High Top. Borrowing from the classic Chuck Taylor style invented in 1917, the Native design team created a functional and breathable sneaker that is easy to slip on and off without the need to untie any laces (a brand signature). Before its official debut in 2018, only 100 pairs will be made available to the public in Gastown. In addition, Belgue is proud to announce future collaborations with local swimwear designer Beth Richards as well as George Cox, the inventor of the iconic punk rock shoe the Creeper.
With further exploration into modern shapes like the classic D’Orsay flat with EVA material, this retail space reflects everything about Native: pure design. “It’s a living, breathing space where we can move things around, do what we want, and try out new ideas as things evolve from our headquarters in Mount Pleasant,” Belgue says. By taking a step back and sticking close to its roots, Native has given the city all the more reason to be proud of home.